The Atlantic revisits the "forgotten story of Glenn Burke", the former centerfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A's who was the first and only Major League Baseball player known to have been out to his teammates and team owners during his professional career.
"He tried to change sports culture three decades ago—but back then, unlike now, sports culture wasn't ready for a change," writes Allen Barrra.
Burke made no secret of his sexual orientation to the Dodgers front office, his teammates, or friends in either league. He also talked freely with sportswriters, though all of them ended up shaking their heads and telling him they couldn't write that in their papers. Burke was so open about his sexuality that the Dodgers tried to talk him into participating in a sham marriage. He refused. In a bit of irony that would seem farcical if it wasn't so tragic, one of the Dodgers who tried to talk Burke into getting "married," was his manager, Tommy Lasorda, whose son Tom Jr. died from AIDS complications in 1991. To this day, Lasorda Sr. refuses to acknowledge his son's homosexuality.
But his story was greeted by the rest of the news media and the baseball establishment, including Burke's former teammates and baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, with silence. Even his superb autobiography, Out at Home, which published the year he died, failed to stir open conversation about homosexuality in sports. Practically no one in the sports-writing community would acknowledge that Burke was gay.
Burke told People magazine in 1995, "They can't ever say now that a gay man can't play in the majors, because I'm a gay man and I made it."
Burke's story was tragic. After reaching the pinnacle of baseball and playing the World Series, Burke began abusing drugs, became homeless and eventually died from AIDS-related causes in 1995. He was only 43 years old. Burke is the subject of the recent documentary Out: The Glenn Burke Story.
Former Dodgers teammate Reggie Smith learned about Burke's sexuality through another player. Smith stresses that he did not want the information to become public or it would "destroy Burke's career." Watch that clip and the trailer AFTER THE JUMP ...